“…an emotionally or physically absent father contributes to a child’s: 1. Low motivation for achievement; 2. Inability to defer immediate gratification for later rewards; 3. Low self-esteem; and 4. Susceptibility to group influence and to juvenile delinquency.” Dr. Armand Nicholi from “Changes in the American Family” White House Paper – October 25, 1984 p. 7,8
The good news in the Bible about fathering is the Living God invented human fathers and He is thus highly committed to seeing human fathers fulfill their purpose. Not only that but He has designed that prosperity and fullness or abundance spiritually, emotionally, relationally, mentally and financially be bestowed on the children and grandchildren of those who seek His help to be the fathers He has called them to be.
One simple way of seeing the importance of human fathers to God is that in the Old and New testaments combined, the word “father” occurs 1,179 times as contrasted to the word “mother” occurring 253 times. The word “fathers” occurs 517 times as contrasted to the word mothers occurring 9 times. You might be thinking well that is because many of those references are speaking of God the Father. Well not exactly. In the Old Testament God is referred to as “Father” only 15 times. In the New Testament He is referred as “Father” 154 times. Well what about the genealogies in the Bible? Yes that would narrow the gap a bit if we took those out of the equation. But the gap would still be there. For instance in some of the desperate prayers of godly saints in the Old Testament for God’s mercy and cleansing, you will never find them asking God to forgive the sins of the mothers. But you will a number of times see them asking God to forgive the “sins of the fathers.” Also in Luke’s genealogy of Jesus in Luke chapter 3, he never uses the word “father”, but rather “son of”. Another example is in the New Testament when Paul teaches about the family in both his letter to the church in Ephesus and in Colossae - when he addresses parenting he only addresses fathers, not mothers. Now there are other reasons for this significant contrast in the number of occurrences in the Bible. And in no way are we saying that mothers are not important in God’s eyes. But we are saying fathers are very important. And regardless of what contemporary culture says about fathers, the church needs to be crystal clear on the importance of fathers walking with God and fulfilling their parenting (and grandparenting) role in Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit.
One more thought about fathers and mothers. As wonderful and needed as mothers are in God’s plan for the family, when fathers do not walk with God and lead their families spiritually, mothers suffer. They are more stressed, more vulnerable, more insecure and overall less effective in doing their part to see their children know and follow Christ. Mothers have the best chance at optimal performance as a mother when their husbands are optimally performing as fathers by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Now as we go back to the book of Exodus one of the ways we see the importance of fathers (and mothers) is with the penalties God has prescribed for those who strike or curse their father or mother. Death is the penalty for both offenses (Ex. 21:15,17), whereas lesser penalties are prescribed for other offenses as seen in chapter 21 and 22.
As we jump back into our topic of the very real effect of generational sins or the sins of the fathers on their children and grandchildren, please note that in Exodus 32:33 God makes clear, “Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book.” No one will be punished by God for someone else’s sins. But we all will experience the effects or consequences of the sins of others, especially our fathers and grandfathers and even great grandfathers if they did not walk with God. This is seen next in Scripture in Exodus 34:6,7, “Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in loving-kindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will be no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.”
Very interesting that the first occurrence of this principle was in Exodus 20 wherein the 10 commandments were first introduced; and the second occurrence is in this chapter where Moses (after breaking the first tablets upon discovering how Israel had made and worshipped the golden calf – see Exodus 32:19) is commanded by God to make two new tablets whereupon God re-wrote the commandments.
Does it not seem in vs. 7 above that part of the punishment on the father who does not obey God is that the consequences of his sins will pass on to his children and grandchildren?
Does it not stand to reason if God has made such wonderful promises for those fathers who walk with and fear and obey Him for blessings to be poured out on their children and grandchildren - that when fathers do not walk with, fear and obey God that the very least we can say is those children and grandchildren will not experience these blessings (apart from the divine intervention of Christ)?
The final thing I want to say about this passage is right after God spoke these words in vs. 6,7 Moses worshipped and began to intercede for his people – crying out to God to have mercy on them for their obstinance, etc.
Later on in the book of Numbers, God is so grieved with the unbelief and disobedience of His people that He is seemingly ready to destroy them and start over with Moses (Numbers 14:12). Moses therefore begins to intercede for them and then after pleading with God for them reminds God of what He had said at least twice before to him/them, “But now, I pray, let the power of the Lord be great, just as You have declared, ‘The Lord is slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generations.’ (Numbers 14:17,18) After repeating this principle from Ex. 20 & Ex. 34, Moses -sobered by the second part and therefore reminding God of the first part, pleads again for God’s mercy on Israel, “Pardon, I Pray, the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of Your lovingkindness, just as You also have forgiven this people, from Egypt until now.” (vs. 19).
One of the reasons why I believe God placed these three passages and the fourth one we will look at in a bit in Holy Scripture is so that we fathers and grandfathers will be more motivated to pray for ourselves as well as our children and grandchildren, banking on God’s lovingkindness and compassion, but also sobered by the punishment reserved for disobedient fathers and the resulting consequences on those fathers’ children and grandchildren.
The last passage in the Old Testament that repeats this principle or statement about God’s promised lovingkindness and His “visiting the iniquities of the fathers…” is found in Deuteronomy chapter 5 and strangely enough the context is Moses reminding Israel of God’s covenant or the Ten Commandments. Also interesting in this last of the four passages is the order is reversed because Moses is reminding them of God’s call to them to worship Him and Him alone and not engage in anything remotely connected to idolatry. “You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them;…” vs. 7-9a. Then Moses gives the reason why they don’t dare mess with idolatry in the rest of the verse, “…for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me,”.
Fathers, do you see by now that your sins don’t just affect you? Sons, grandsons, especially those of you are first generation Christians (that is Christians seeking to walk with God on a daily basis, but your parents and grandparents didn’t) – as you learn to overcome sin, Satan and this evil world system and put on the new and put off the old, are you looking to the Holy Spirit to help you understand how the sins of your father and grandfather might have adversely affected you? He will gladly show you if you seek Him for understanding and insight into the sin patterns and fleshly thought patterns that were prevalent in your fathers and grandfathers and even great grandfather’s lives.
Well God is hugely into hope, and thus He is faithful to not leave the warning of generational sins without the promise of generational blessings, “but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” Vs. 10 The God of the Bible is a covenant keeping God. His lovingkindness for millenniums has won the hearts of men, women, young people and children all over our planet. Once He sets His loving eyes on us, He does not take them off. His jealousy, which is spoken of in three out of the four passages we have been looking at in Exodus and Deuteronomy arises out of His lovingkindness. He made us for Himself. He delights in our fellowship. When we get a true taste of such love, everything else in life pales in insignificance. As King David, the man after God’s own heart, put it, “Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, My lips will praise you.” (Psalm 63:3.
Perhaps you are reading this and the thought of knowing and experiencing God like this seems beyond you. My prayer is that you will learn to cling to our great Savior Jesus, of whom the apostle Peter says, “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God….” (I Peter 3:18). Jesus died for your sins so that every conceivable obstacle keeping you from intimacy with God can be forever destroyed. Cry out to Him and He will show you the way.